Undergrad Research FAQ


The follow Frequently Asked Questions and Answers were compiled by the IB Student Organization DIBS.  Additional information is available on the main Undergraduate Research Information Page.

What are the most common ways to get research positions?

You can apply to do research through the URAP program, where the applications open once a semester, you can also cold email professors (not necessarily from Berkeley!) and ask about their research and their labs. It is recommended to read through some of their publications to get a sense of what they are researching and approach the researcher with questions about their work to show genuine interest. You can also find research positions through the IB newsletter.

What is the URAP application process?

URAP applications open per semester, and typically within the first few weeks of school. The URAP program can be accessed at urap.berkeley.edu where the application as well as the various projects can be found. Applicants will be asked to write out statements of interest for up to three research projects that they find interesting, and then they will have to enter some other information like their GPA and what classes they’ve taken. They will then be contacted and notified of any potential interviews, or if they were offered a position in the lab within a few weeks.

How would one go about cold-emailing professors?

Typically you should only cold-email or visit professors in office hours if you are genuinely interested in their topic of research. You can email the professor, introduce yourself and ask to meet up to chat about the professor’s research and ask if there are any availabilities in the professor’s lab. Some professors will arrange informal interviews in order to get to know students more as well. Be respectful of the professors you email; mass emailing the entire department will not land you a research position. Also, try to mention/demonstrate what about the professor’s research interests you (so they know you did your own research into their projects) and how you may contribute. If you lack experience, mention that you are willing to learn.

Should you go for a lab that you’re more interested in, or one that you have a higher chance of getting into?

Trying to do research in a lab that has a topic that is more interesting will always be a better idea simply because there will be more passion and driving force behind doing research. The more you can show you care about the research you would be doing, the higher your chance of getting the lab position! Moreover, the longer a student does research, the more important it is that they find their topic of research interesting, as they will be devoting more and more time to that topic of research. Research positions can require upwards of 15 hours a week; it is essential that you find the work meaningful and valuable to you and your goals.

Are there any special programs for research on campus?

Berkeley recognizes that students come from a variety of many different backgrounds and interests, and as a result, many programs have been developed over the years to help students achieve their full potential. Some of the many programs offered at Berkeley are listed below; however, this list is not comprehensive and continues to grow everyday.

When should I become involved in research?

As soon as you are interested! It is best to get involved in research as soon as you’d like to, as researchers are looking for students who can commit long-term to the lab. Training in the skills necessary for a particular lab can take a semester or a year, so it’s important to allow yourself enough time to contribute to the project.

How do I find a faculty mentor?

One of the best ways to find a faculty mentor is to make a list of professors who have taught a class that you have taken. Through these classes (or office hours), you might have been able to learn about your professor and his/her interests. From this list, arrange a time to meet with the professor to communicate your interest in having that person as a faculty mentor, sharing some ideas about your research. For more information and tips, visit here.

What to expect from a faculty mentor?

This is very laboratory specific, some labs will have a faculty mentor overseeing research with graduate students doing more of the teaching and observing, while other labs will have faculty mentors directly mentoring students. Faculty mentors will often have their own projects as well that they are working on.

What documents might I need when applying for research?

Since applying for research is very similar to applying for a job, most likely a resume, letter of interest or cover letter, a CV, and a transcript are standard documents to bring to an interview or to speak to a professor.

Do I qualify for academic credits or workstudy in research?

If you are in the URAP program you will qualify for academic credits depending on how many hours you go into the lab (see below question for details). As for work study, that may be something that can be worked out with your faculty mentor, but many labs pay out of their own funding so there is no guarantee.

How accessible are the professors outside of class?

All professors hold office hours during the week; many have open office hours, meaning anyone can attend for any reason. Other professors may have scheduled office hours, meaning you would need to make an appointment to meet with them. If you cannot make office hours, most professors are willing to arrange another time to meet with you if you have a specific meeting topic in mind. In this case, emailing the professor with a few times you are available to meet is optimal. Additionally, you can email professors with quick questions, but be mindful that professors have hundreds of students and your message may not get answered promptly.

Are there any research opportunities off campus?

Of course! There are research opportunities at other universities as well, such as UCSF, or even Stanford University, but the process of obtaining these positions is different than URAP research positions.

How much of a time commitment is undergraduate research?

Undergraduate research is an experience that varies from student to student and semester to semester. In Fall and Spring, students typically commit at least 3 hours per week while taking classes concurrently. In the Summer, some students may have the additional option of working part-time and full-time for the lab. Different professors and principal investigators may set the minimum required hours depending on the needs of their research project, so always be sure to ask to see if you might be a good fit for the project. If you are involved in research during the school year and would like to get the experience notated on your transcript, you might have the option to enroll in UGIS 192. For every 3 hours of research, you could qualify for 1 unit of UGIS 192.

What types of research can I be a part of?

Undergraduates typically engage in one of two different styles of research. The most common type is through joining a faculty member’s research project. Since many professors have long-standing projects, students typically join the lab to contribute to the project and gain experience in research methodology and techniques. Some students may also decide to develop and conduct their own research project independently or with the assistance of a faculty mentor. There are advantages and disadvantages for both, so be sure to meet with your major advisor, faculty mentor, or principal investigator to discuss the possibilities.

Can I be involved in research outside my major or college?

[DISCLAIMER: This question was asked of Professor Kevin Padian and these were the main points of his response] This is not to discourage finding research related to one’s major, but rather to recognize that there are also indeed benefits in participating in research outside of one’s major. Benefits include demonstrating deep knowledge in another scientific niche beyond one’s major and therefore, appearing different/unique to institutions you apply to (i.e. Medical school, grad school, etc). The main importance of having research on your resume is to be involved in a research you have taken “ownership” of. The amount of investment and involvement you have in a lab is much more valuable than the subject/relativity to major of the research.

Is undergraduate research required for my future career?

It depends. For a career in academia, research is highly necessary. For medical school and other health professional schools, research will distinguish you as a competitive applicant and increase your chances of acceptance into the schools of your choice. Jobs in industry requiring technical lab skills may require prior experience in a lab. We recommend looking into the specific requirements of the schools/careers you are interested in to get a more detailed answer.

Is undergraduate research a requirement at Berkeley?

No, but it is highly recommended. Berkeley is a premier research institution with cutting edge researchers at every turn. Participating in research can help you gain valuable skills, network with graduate students and professors, and give you an edge for future schooling and job hunting.

Where can I get more information about research?

Berkeley has many resources available on general research questions, research opportunities, and much more! We recommend starting with your major advisors, but other resources include the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarships (OURS), Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP), and Underrepresented Researchers of Color (UROC).


Where can I find advising for my IB courses?

You can find advising with your college (L&S) adviser, the IB Undergraduate Student Services Office (IBUSSO), peer advisors, and your major advisor if you have declared IB. Advising appointments with college and major advisors can be scheduled via CalCentral. IB peer advisors are available in 3060 VLSB Monday through Friday. See the link below for additional details. https://ib.berkeley.edu/undergrad/advising.php

Where can I meet other like-minded students?

UC Berkeley has a very large collection of student-run organizations, such as DIBS, the only IB club on campus! Keep an eye out for their meetings!